Merry Christmas! It is so good to be with all of you in a beautiful and sacred space on the most joyful night of the year. The night when Love came into the world – the night when God made a way into human history – in a way no one could ever expect.
The Christmas story is so familiar to our ears. The images of angels and shepherds are right alongside the images of Linus and his blanket telling us that Christmas isn’t about the presents or the biggest tree – but it’s about this story. The story of God announcing that peace has come to earth – proclaiming good news of great joy for the world.
But how does this story connect with our world in 2016? What do angels and shepherds have to do with us today – in a world filled with uncertainty? Where is the peace on earth that we’re promised this night?
And besides – all of us are in the middle of our own lives, our own stories. This time of year brings a season that adds much to our plates. Traditions and shopping and parties and obligations. Reunions with family and friends – the ones we can’t wait for – and the ones we just want to get through. What in the world does a “once upon a time” sounding story from over 2,000 years ago have in common with our lives here and now?
Well I invite us to follow Mary’s lead – and take a few moments to be in this story – to ponder in our hearts the extraordinary way in which an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God – the creator of Heaven and Earth – made a way and came to be born – for all of us.
It was so long ago – but in those days – rulers did what they still do. Caesar Augustus – scared of being overthrown – used his political power to insist that all the world be registered. Imagine that? All the world? And why did everyone need to register? Taxes. (we have those in these days too). He wanted to make sure that everyone – especially the people with the least to lose – we’re paying their taxes to the empire.
So a young man – takes a very young woman – pregnant although not by him – from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Trusting in God even though they must have had their own fears and doubts. We don’t know the specific route they took – but they wouldn’t have been alone. In those days – as in these – when people are forced to leave a place they tend to travel together – in scenes reminiscent of what you and I see on the news every day.
And can you imagine what walking to Nazareth, what that journey was like? To put it in our perspective if would be as if you and I walked from here to Philly. We could do it of course – but no rest stops, no hotels. No Royal Farms or gas stations. No cars! And this young girl – just a teenager is in the last trimester of her pregnancy. Can you imagine what they were thinking – what she was feeling on that journey? It’s not so hard is it? We can put ourselves in the story.
(When I was in the last trimester of my pregnancy I remember staring down the block where I lived in New York – my apartment half way down and thought – hmmmm, I don’t need to walk anymore – I’ll just live here now, on this nice corner until the baby comes.)
So many of the circumstances we can still relate to. We hear the Christmas story year upon year – and see that so much of human history is still the same. The time and place may be different. But in those days – as in these – there are many Mary’s and Joseph’s traveling on unknown roads. And on this night, we are invited to open our hearts and see – the whole human family – which follows in the footsteps of the holy family – searching for a room – relying on the kindness of strangers to provide a place for them.
And just as the whole world is connected to this story – it is also told about our individual expectations, fears and hopes. The first thing the angel proclaims is something angels always start with – do not be afraid. For God knows that Christmas includes our expectations too. As we sing in that well-known Christmas carol – the hopes and fears of all the years – are met in thee tonight.
When a baby is born into our lives – as our own child – as a sibling – we never see anything the same again, do we? When my daughter was born in that first year – a friend asked – what is it like – and I said – every morning feels like Christmas. That didn’t last of course.
A baby is a new beginning. Bringing those feelings of hope and possibility and joy. Don’t be afraid of that either. We tend to worry – when we’re happy. We think – oh everything is so good – something is bound to give – this can’t last forever. And God knows that too – for God is with us - Emmanuel. We are given the gift of love – in hope and fear – in joy and possibility. God enters into humanity so that our faith is filled with a God who knows all of what we go through.
The glorious proclamation of the angels didn’t point to a deity making use of divine power to reach in and upend all the workings of the world. In our story the angels fill the heavens with light – so that those shepherds who were caring for their flocks – could go and see the most ordinary and extraordinary human event there is.
The proclamation to us this night is the same – Go and see – and behold – as if for the first time – love being born anew. Open your heart to the joy that new light – new hope –brings. And trust that within each and every one of us – this light is longing to be born. For there is amazing grace – and a peace of God that surpasses our understanding. When we open our hearts to make room – to go and see – when we look for and pay attention to the light within the stories that are all around us.
Christmas reveals a God who does not manipulate our story – but chooses, for our sake, to make a way. In the shared circumstances of our world – and in the very individual circumstances of our own lives. May we open ourselves to the love of God being born in us – and ponder anew what the Almighty can do – in the ordinary – yet extraordinary gift of love – God with us. Amen.